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August 25, 2014

StarTropics (Part 2)

Read Part 1 here.

Welcome back to this review of StarTropics! Last time, Mike had just left the fourth island, saved himself and an ugly stereotype from a giant whale, and received an upgrade to the Sub-C in the form of an unexpected puzzle that involves a REAL letter owned by the player. Gotta be thankful that this thing is also in the Virtual Console version!

Later, Mike reaches two islands with a huge ship between them. Sadly, it's impossible to pass from either side of the island, and the locales aren't exactly open to removing the ship from there. This is the legendary Captain Bell's ship, which helped greatly in fending off enemies in times of war, if history is to be believed. These islands are annoying as Hell, showing how dim-witted and stupid people may be when they're claiming to do stuff in honor of a historical figure. The people of Bellcola do not really wish to help, unless you find a way to remove the ship yourself. Hey, a man's life is possibly in danger, do I give a crap about your old ship? Erect a statue of Captain Bell in your village, and get that boat the fuck out of there! Urgh... Still, Bellcola's chief tells you to find another way, and that Peter can help.

"Squawk! Squawk! Peter wants a worm!"
What's next, we'll call parrots as witnesses in court?
Who's Peter? A parrot. No, really. He speaks. And will not speak to you unless you give him something, like a worm. Where to get the worm? On another section of the island, which is kind of far away. A fisherman gives Mike the worm, and then Mike must go ALL THE WAY BACK to Peter, who them just says this cryptic message: "Do me so far, do me?” Uh.... No. I'm not doing you. Yuck. However, if Mike goes back to the chain of mountains on the other side of the island, he can find an old tower with a giant organ in it. Do me so far, do me... Do me so far, do me... Is it possible...? Do mi sol fa, do mi? Is it... is it possible? Geez, I hope you know your musical notes... Mike recreates the six-note melody and opens a secret passageway... and then has to walk through a cave filled with traps. Oh, there's still a lot of enemies, but there's a ton of traps like spikes, stakes coming out from the ground, giant bowling balls – I wish I was, but I'm not kidding – and other fun stuff. That level is very difficult because of this. But Mike eventually reaches the end and starts a mechanism that lets the water flow towards the ship, which sinks the Captain Bell memorial. Mike can now go to the next set of islands, while the inhabitants of Bellcola start discovering aircraft technology in hopes of bombing the C-Sub in a near future.

Is that a bowling ball? Gotta put that picture on Pin-terest!
Or, alternately: That bowling ball comes from a giant who's
aiming for a 300 score.

Seriously, what the Hell, Bellcola?

Chapter 6... also known as "WHERE THE HELL AM I?"
or "Hand me the map... what do you mean, there's no map?"

A fossil monster! I need it
for my Fossil Fighters save file!
Mike then winds up in a maze-like section of the ocean where there's many islands. The robotic buddy tells you at every few squares when you're getting closer to Dr. J, indicating how many squares left/right or up/down the Sub-C must go in order to find his location. The submarine continues on its way, eventually finding the spot. Mike dives underwater... and finds the remnants of an ancient civilization! There's something odd about it... Oh well. Mike enters another dungeon, and discovers a new item: a magic anklet that lets him jump one square further than usual when he's crossing water. This proves very useful as he needs that ability more than once. He walks and jumps across the rooms until he has found the boss: A giant fossil-like monster called Turboss. Think of it as Omastar's Mega Evolution. However, it's pretty much just a copy of the battle against Octo the Huge, so I suppose it's an easy fight. Turboss comes closer to the bottom every once in a while, just so it can get hit. Mike keeps exploring, finds awesome spiked shoes and baseballs, and keeps going... until he meets a Moai head that comes to life and attacks him! ...Just when I thought things couldn't get any sillier. This boss plays pretty much like the C-Serpent, as Mike has to shoot into the Moai's mouth when it is open. Oh, and only the baseballs can hurt it. If you know of a reason why, please send me an e-mail with proof beyond simple assumptions.

I've read that this boss is named Broken Joe. And though
it's a Moai, there's nothing about this guy that is an Easter egg.

Meh? Let me check... yes. Meh.
A lame boss going against
an awesome weapon.
Mike keeps walking through the ruins until he finds a large rock with three cubic shapes that had been taken out of it. This thing seems alien, as the writings on it aren't from Earth. I knew there was going to be aliens in this, the game made too little sense to begin with. Mike reaches the next cave, which contains even more traps and dangerous monsters. On the way, he finds the very awesome shurikens. He always tosses two at once, after which he can split their paths; one will go left, the other will go right. And that means he can hit two enemies at once! This is awesome. That weapon proves very useful in the following rooms... where he meets, among other things, large Maya dolls that act as mid-bosses. First a room with only one, then a room with two a little later. The problem with these monsters? Mike dies instantly if they touch him. Still, the American boy overcomes the challenges and reaches the last boss... Two statues whose heads are spitting fireballs. The statues are placed so that Mike can hit them both at once with the shurikens, so he does just that and beats the dungeon. That boss was... too easy, to say the least.

"I am the expert here, so you must
accept what I say as fact. And if it
makes no sense? Know that we
live in a freaking weird world."
We see him again in the ruins, where he finally finds Dr. J. The scientist explain to him that the big rock and the three cubes are the remnants of an alien civilization destroyed by an alien conqueror, and bringing the three cubes together would revive the alien people who took refuge in them for the trip. Oooo-kay... Uncle, are you off your meds again? Jones talks about the Argonians and ends by telling Mike that he must get the cubes. Again, we let the teenager do all the work! You might be sending your nephew into a deadly mission and you expect me to accept that? Urgh. The game does expect me to accept that, so I have no choice.

Heck, the next level IS ultra-dangerous! The game's hardest level, for sure! Even good gamers will have problems beating it. Mike enters the spaceship waiting outside (waiting for what, exactly?), and finds himself in a gigantic room filled with eye-like cannons, alien shooters, and more aliens riding evil dogs. ...I think that's what those pink riders are. This level is extremely difficult, working like a maze, which makes it even worse. The exit is located in a zone Mike cannot access by jumping (the gap is too large), so he needs to find a warp pad that will bring him there. And good God, there's many warp pads placed all over the level. Good luck finding the right one! And even if Mike finds the exit, there's still twin robots in the last room, shooting around to stop him from going further! Holy wow...

A giant grasshopper robot? What's next, a prime-hunting
raccoon in a team of heroes??
Mike progresses through the spaceship and eventually finds the first cube... which upgrades his Shooting Star to a brand new yo-yo weapon, the epic SUPERNOVA. This thing shoots across entire rooms and does more damage! The only problem is that you can use it only if you have 10 full hearts or more. And with the difficulty now, hearts go down faster than the birds in Duck Hunt. Luckily, the next level is a little easier. Mike ventures through the spaceship again, defeating enemies on the way, until he meets a larger enemy named the Jet-Pack Jumper. Luckily, it's not THAT hard to beat, so Mike just Supernova's the Hell out of it and then goes forward. What's at the end of this tricky level? Another boss... A giant grasshopper robot! It has loads of HP, but Mike can press a switch to make it fall in the digital sea below. (wait, there's some sort of endless pit in a spaceship that hasn't even lifted off??? This. Not. Sense. Makes!) Still, Mike defeats the thing that's bugging him and enters another section of the ship, where he finds the second cube. And that cube brings to the maximum his number of hearts! He has 22 right now! Oh, also... the place starts shaking. The spaceship rises, and flies away!

This is it, the final level! Our American hero is about to enter Zoda's quarters when the alien uses telepathy to tell him how lame, weak and stupid Mike is. In other words, saying almost everything I said so far. (Okay, that was a cruel joke.) Look out, Zoda: If you get too logical, Mike will break your mind with his lack of logic! Mike jams bananas in his ears to avoid hearing more.

"Hey, I am not a scum! I prefer the term 'meanie'."
Oh, and Mike: Bananas do not protect from telepathy.

Mike gets in the first room, where Zoda, a hooded figure, transforms into a giant head with two arms. If they touch you, if you touch them Game Over. And you can only hurt the head. Plus, like at the start of every chapter, Mike has ONLY THREE HEARTS DURING THE WHOLE FIGHT. How's that for difficulty? Still, that form of Zoda is defeated and now, Mike can move on. He goes through a few screens, defeating enemies along the way (thanks to the Super Pill that filled all of his hearts), until he reaches the main the ship's main engine, as alien as everything else around. Mike has to destroy it by shooting repeatedly... and at some point tiny tentacles come out of it. Tentacles in a spaceship engine? I don't know what they've been smoking at Nintendo of America, but it wasn't safe. After the engine is destroyed (a task proven extremely difficult because of the spawning enemies), Mike proceeds. The final fight is approaching!

Now that looks more like a galactic conqueror!
...An alien dragon, sure, but a galactic conqueror nonetheless!
Mike walks north for three screens, killing some odd spawns and replenishing his health... and then he reaches the final boss' room. Zoda. Yes, this is Zoda right here. A hooded figure? Nope! A giant alien dragon! And oh my God, it is powerful. Ramming into it is instant death, it spits fireballs (or stuff that looks like acid; the NES's pixel graphics are open to interpretation), and it spews more tentacled creatures. Yuck. Oh, and it can jump forward, too. Mike has to keep a safe distance and shoot the alien dragon, both with the Supernova and with other weapons he may have picked up on the way. And for a while, it doesn't seem to hurt Zoda much... until he's really hurt and starts barfing. Again, yuck. At that point, it stops attacking, and Mike can hit it repeatedly until the alien conqueror is no more. With this victory, Mike picks up the final cube and... The spaceship explodes. Mike leaves just in time in an escape pod, which breaks after he has landed... in the water. He tries swimming towards land, but drowns pretty quickly.

The end.

Aquaman saves the day! Or just a
dolphin. Sorry, Aquaman.
Who am I kidding? Of course it's not the end! It turns out the early chapters had more significance, as Mike is saved and brought back to C-Island by the dolphins he helped! I knew they had a reason to be in the plot! Mike gets up and heads to Coralcola, where he sees everyone doing fine! And all the monsters have disappeared from the islands! Dr. Jones is there, too! So is Nav-Com! Everyone congratulates Mike, and Dr. J asks him to put the three cubes together...

Wait... you're the girl I just saved? My pal Mario told me
that means you owe me a kiss! Come on, I'm wating!
...which frees the Argonians! Seven children appear, one of which begins speaking. In English. She's princess Mica, daughter of King Hirocon (wait. Aliens in a monarchy? Interesting, but kind of odd...). They're the only Argonians left. Mica explains that twenty years prior to the game, they were sent to Earth as those cubes, thinking they would be fine. Now the Argonians must live on Earth, despite their elf-like ears proving they are not quite human, joining the ranks of many other alien characters and species who look just human enough to live on Earth, despite these details that make them stick out from everyone else.

Mike replies by saying: “Hi, I'm Mike! We'll find you a home!” ...IN AMERICA! There's a big party in Coralcola. The end.

To date, Mike still hasn't been able to remove all traces of bananas from his ears. Let that be a lesson, kids: Don't stick fruits where they don't belong!

Gosh, this is awesomely stupid. Or stupidly awesome. Either way, this game is the definition of crazy AND amazing at once. Mike is an idiot, the perfect stereotype of the sports guy who didn't really care for grades. He also seems to be lacking in the logic department, as he never keeps anything he has won through his journey; aside from his yo-yo, of course. He throws away everything else as soon as he leaves the dungeons, even the rare heart refill potions, which are so useful. That can be explained as the limits in the game's programming, or maybe as a way to make it a little more difficult. Still, if Mike kept all the weapons he could pick up, this game would have been closer to the Legend of Zelda series: A tool can go unused for a few dungeons and then be re-used a while later. Wouldn't that be great? Aside from that, it seems like the game is unintentionally stupid from the start. Mike keeps getting sidetracked, and in some cases it's the people around him who are actually stupid (like the Bellcolans blocking the way to Mike – and arguably, to every other ship who could come by; or Dr. J, who made a submarine that CANNOT GO UNDERWATER, and who sends his nephew on an ultra-dangerous quest against very real alien monsters). Still, by the end, everything goes fine... I suppose...

As for the gameplay? It's pretty good. Oh, there are programming flaws. Mike will often be unresponsive to the commands, but Mike moves after less than a second. There's sort of a delay between the button press and Mike's action. And it doesn't happen that much. It's just annoying when you need him to move fast. Be thankful it doesn't happen too often.  Aside from that, the weapons are all quite fun to use, but it's kind of sad that you must have a certain number of full hearts to use the better yo-yos. It does give a greater challenge, though. Mike is restricted by his own walking speed, but also by his jumps, since he can only jump in place, unless he can jump to a nearby green square on the ground, or over a square of water. The music is really memorable, the bosses are great – though many of them are also very stupid. There is a good selection of creatures, many of which are VERY innovative, like the Fuzzies who rob Mike temporarily of his capacity to use weapons, or the snakes that zoom towards him when he gets in their way – and sometimes, even when he doesn't. I also include the ghosts that you must make visible in order to hit them. The dungeons are built so that navigating them isn't horrible, while still being very difficult by the number of enemies, the numerous traps and the different features that can appear. I remember the level with the ghosts; a few fake exits that force you to re-do the whole level. Whoa. Some of the non-weapon items are also very creative, like the Snowman. The music is good, the graphics are good for the era, the pixel-art pictures when Mike speaks to important characters are detailed and fun to look at... I recommend the first StarTropics game. I've played through it a few times already, so it's a little less difficult for me... but you will find it hard, and you will like it for how zany the whole game is.

Two pictures from a recent Brawl in the Family page. Yep, Matthew Taranto made a page about StarTropics not long
ago... Strange minds think alike, huh?

Now, I tried to avoid every possible “StarTropics is too much like Earthbound” jokes, because those have been done. A lot. Earthbound has gained a lot of popularity thanks to Ness and Lucas appearing in the Smash games. I find it very unfair that StarTropics has not been represented in Smash. Mike is a bit too much like Ness? Is that really important? He is not Ness. He can use a lot of different weapons that Ness doesn't have. Instead of using a normal yo-yo like Ness, he could use the Shooting Star! He could use a bat but swing it around wildly instead of using it as a charging weapon like Ness! He could use any of the other weapons, like the bolas, the shurikens, the torches! He could use the Magic Mirrors to reflect projectiles or avoid them! His Final Smash would be the Spike Shoes! Through this game and its sequel, Zoda's Revenge: StarTropics II, Mike has used an entire arsenal of weapons that could be very fun to see in a future Smash game. There are ways to make him different from Ness.

Picture made by Diegichigo, published on DeviantArt.
Needs his grin, a greater jaw... and other stuff.
This pic was made from bits of other brawlers, so...

Look, I'm not saying Mike must be in Super Smash Bros. I'm just saying that there is great potential for him as a character, but he's overlooked by Japan. The StarTropics series has a great number of fans around the world, and I'm sure they'd all be happy to see a sequel. Thing is, StarTropics deserves recognition. A greater recognition as a Nintendo franchise, a recognition it's been hoping to get for years. More than just a little mention in Brawl's Chronicle section, a cheap footnote in the History of Nintendo. StarTropics deserves better. Mike Jones deserves better. Please, Nintendo of Japan. Hear about StarTropics. Pay a tribute to the Nintendo of America series, the all-American hero and the epic adventure set in the Tropics.

Please, Nintendo. The fans have been waiting. The StarTropics fans are many. Pit had only two games before he appeared in Brawl. The Ice Climbers had only one before they showed up in Melee. Nintendo of Japan must acknowledge what Nintendo of America has done.

Make it happen. Please, make it happen. Mike has huge potential for a Smash game, the series needs to be known, there is so much that could be done... I'm throwing it out there, hoping that this message is heard, like a parchment in a bottle out at sea. If only this could be seen by people from Nintendo of Japan... Don't give up hope. Stay confident. Mike Jones will have his shining moment in the future. Keep hoping.

Tune in next week for a list of 12 games I grew up with that I haven't played in a long while and wish I could play again.